Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Theistic Reemphasis

The following is a brief argument why popular atheistic criticisms of religion are ultimately mute, uninteresting, and do not justify being an atheist.

1. If God can be a religiously neutral term, then no criticism of religion can disprove God's existence.
2. God can be a religiously neutral term.
3. Therefore, no criticism of religion can disprove God's existence.

The first premise, expressed in the form of a conditional statement, is more plausibly true than its negation. If one can show that the subsequent does not follow from the truth of the antecedent, then the argument becomes unsound. However, it is de facto the case that for any concept P, if P is irrelevant to the truth of Q, then falsifying P does nothing to the truth value of Q. For example, the proposition "1+1=2" is true regardless of whether I ate breakfast today, because my eating breakfast has nothing to do with whether 1+1=2. Likewise, if God can be a religiously neutral term, that is, is independent of religious concepts, then refuting religions is not the same as refuting God's existence.

The second premise is true, I argue, because of the relationship between theism and deism, and the fact that God's existence can be derived independently from religious concepts. The word 'theist' is an umbrella term (a genus), and one is a theist if they have a belief in a god of the universe. This is not the same as a pantheist (that God is in all things, and is the universe) or a polytheist (i.e. there are gods of the universe, and/or in the universe). Deism is the simplest form of theism because it states that there is a god of the universe. However, deism does not believe that God has revealed himself, or answers prayers, forgives sins, or ever gets involved with the universe (besides creating it). In short, under deism, we can never know 'who' God is, even if we know 'what' God is. Moreover, the fact that one can infer God's existence without ever opening a holy book shows that God can be a religiously neutral term. The premises of the Kalam cosmological argument, for example, are true or false regardless of whether Jesus is the Son of God.

Atheism is the belief that God does not exist. This can embody agnosticism (since technically they don't believe in God) or naturalism (the belief that ultimate reality is physical, therefore excluding theism). The relationship between agnosticism and positive atheism (naturalism) is easy to see by entertaining a brief hypothetical. If a room full people of varying beliefs was told, "If you don't believe in God, please move to the left side of the room" then to the left side of the room the naturalist and agnostic would go. Now if it were clarified that 'God' here meant 'God of the universe', then the pantheist and (most likely) the polytheist would join the agnostic and naturalist (positive atheist). However, it would be silly to suggest from this that polytheists and pantheists were really atheists because they had a 'lack of belief in God'. So there must be more to being an atheist than what has been presently discussed, otherwise these categorical mistakes become prominent.

This is resolved when one separates 'god' (the substance) from God (the person). [It may be an unfortunate thing that, in English, God (person) is the same word as the substance 'god'. It's similar if there was a human named Human.] Clearly, 'god' is a higher order concept than 'God', in the sense that if 'god' is false, then so is God. Why? Because God is a god with a specific set of personal properties. For example, if a husband and wife walked into their house and, upon hearing the shower trickling, concluded that someone other than them was in the house, then they might very well form two opinions of the intent of that person. The husband might say that the person in the shower is malevolent. The wife might say, "No, the person in the shower is our son home early." Either way, if there was no person in the shower at all, then their deciding the intent of the person is pointless (for no truth value could be assigned to either the husband's or wife's claim). Likewise, if the substance 'god' is shown to be false, then there is no point in saying, for example, that God forgives sins.

From this, I argue, atheism must be rejecting the substance 'god', and not simply God the person. If they maintain that they are only rejecting God the person, then they create unnecessary atheistic categories that would conflate with other interpretations of reality, some of which include divine, supernatural, categories. It would follow that there are atheists who believe in a divine substance, which is complete nonsense and a misuse of the term. Atheism would amount to the word 'nonChristian', which is a useless term that only tells us what you aren't and not what you are. This interpretation of 'atheist' would serve no purpose in civil philosophical discussions.

Since 'atheism' must (in order to be proper) reject the substance 'god' (the nonpersonal properties like omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, immaterialness, timelessness, etc), then it follows that mocking the plausibility of miracles in the Bible, for example, does not warrant belief in atheism. Even the atheist's prized argument from evil does not refute the substance god, for revealing that God is malevolent does not contradict deism. As irony would have it, most religious criticisms by atheists (e.g. how miracles are unrealistic) presuppose that God doesn't exist, and hence beg the question (i.e. are circular) if used to support the idea that God doesn't exist. At the end of the day, atheists are left with very little relevant arguments which justify their position. In fact, they would have to show that some property within the god concept is contradictory (i.e. perhaps being 'immaterial' is a contradiction). But very few atheists, let alone academic atheists, ever shoulder this burden of proof.

Atheism, then, is an epistemically weak position to hold.